It can be hard to separate yourself from the tourist traps — they’re popular for a reason. But for a slightly more authentic experience, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best-kept secrets and hidden gems of the Netherlands.
Venture to these hidden gems instead, to spend some time exploring this flat land — without shuffling heel to toe amongst hordes of people lining up for the Heineken Experience, or taking selfies at Keukenhof.
1. Visit the abandoned Kootwij Radio station
📍 Where: Apeldoorn
Radio Kootwij is an abandoned building situated in the middle of a forest clearing. It was built in 1923 to emit radio frequencies between the Netherlands and Indonesia (known back then as the “Dutch Indies”). Only five years after it was built, the station was deemed outdated and abandoned.
Meander around the nearby forest, sand dunes, and heath, before exploring this ominous building.
2. Have lunch in the garden of Villa Augustas
📍 Where: Dordrecht
Villa Augustas is a hotel and restaurant situated in the middle of a flourishing vegetable garden in Dordrecht. It also boasts an enticing market that’s open daily, selling freshly baked sourdough bread, a variety of fruit and vegetables, and ceramics. They also put on excellent concerts. You can easily make a reservation and check out the concert program online.
3. Get the best panoramic views at Zoku Amsterdam
📍 Where: Amsterdam
Zoku is a great place to hang out, with its welcoming vibes and beautiful decor. You can come with friends for a casual drink, relax on the hammocks outside, play ping pong indoors, or spend your day working at one of their epic work tables, with a coffee, of course.
The best part is that there are free sweets, fruit, and biscuits! So eat your heart out, stingy travellers!
4. Visit the public bar in the Vrankrijk squat house
📍 Where: Amsterdam
This building has an extremely varied and rich history, as one of the oldest squat houses in the Netherlands. It began as a woodwork shop in 1875, before turning into a print shop used by Martin Toonder to print fake documents for the resistance during World War II. It was first squatted in 1982 by protesters, who wanted to prevent its demolition.
Now, alternative bands play in the public bar, so if you want a funky night out, this is the place to go!
5. Spot the tiny hidden houses in Amsterdam
📍 Where: Jordaan, Amsterdam
Hidden in the crack next to number 54 on Westerstraat in Amsterdam’s Jordaan area are a bunch of miniature houses. They were inserted between two houses to make a statement when the courtyard situated behind the building was removed in order to make room for more houses.
6. Race around the dreamy Van Gogh Cycling Path
📍 Where: Eindhoven
This cycling path in Eindhoven lights up to display Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night painting. Thousands of glistening pebbles ingrained into the concrete absorb light during the day and emit colour at night. It’s a truly wonderful sight, and oh-so-quintessentially Dutch!
7. Drink a beer in a Cold War bunker
📍 Where: Vondelpark, Amsterdam
Sure, you’ve been to Vondelpark before, but did you know about this hidden gem? The park’s old cold war bunker hosts a variety of events, from art exhibitions, movie nights, dinners, and even their own brewery called Bunkerbier. The Vondelbunker is hidden underneath a bridge in Vondelpark — get exploring!
8. Ride the free white bikes in Veluwe
📍 Where: De Hoge Veluwe National Park
You might have heard of De Hoge Veluwe National Park (the largest in Holland), but few have heard about the free “white bikes”. If you’re visiting this national park, you can grab one free of charge, and explore over 40 kilometres of cycling paths!
This concept dates back to the sixties when a group of social innovators wanted free bikes to be available to everyone and anyone in Amsterdam. The project was never implemented in the capital, but stuck in De Hoge Veluwe. There are over 1,800 white bikes scattered around the park, and you can pick up and drop them off wherever you fancy (with no need to lock them). What a Dutch utopia! 🚲
9. Cycle from Leiden to Nordwijk
📍 Where: Leiden/Noordwijk
From a west coast city in the Netherlands, it’s often far quicker to cycle to the coast than to use public transport. The cycle trip from Leiden to Noordwijk only takes around 30 minutes, and will reward you with undulating sand dune views, cute seaside towns and, of course, the North Sea.
Pack a picnic and go and enjoy the ride!
10. Go to a (reasonably priced) music festival every Sunday
📍 Where: Ruigoord
Ruigoord is located near Amsterdam and hosts a different festival each Sunday. The set-up is whacky, with entrancing lights and colourful sculptures dotted around a looming church. Ticket prices are usually between €10 and €40, so you really have no excuse not to check it out.
So there you have it! A few ideas for a unique and memorable experience in the Netherlands.
You won’t always evade tourists or tourist traps (and sometimes they definitely can be worthwhile), but it’s nice to discover hidden gems for yourself, and explore the Netherlands off the beaten track too.
Have you already done a few of these? Did we miss any hidden gem experiences? Tell us in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2019, and was fully updated in November 2022, for your reading pleasure.